16/10/2020 05:00 – Updated: 10/16/2020 8:54 AM
(Almost) all the smartphone brands on the market already have 5G mobile phones, even if it is in its highest ranges. The last to arrive has been Apple although at least it has fulfilled with all the potential buyers of the new iPhones 12, that have incorporated 5G from the cheapest to the most expensive, without differences. But the differences do appear between the 12 iPhones that will go on sale in the United States and in the rest of the world. In the promotional images of the new devices, there is a very subtle aesthetic difference between iPhones destined for the US market and those that will reach the rest of the world.
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That notch or area that shares the side with the power button on iPhones in the United States is what will make it possible for them to connect to the 5G mmWave, popular in that country but hardly in use in other countries (in Europe they have only assigned it in Finland, Norway and Italy), which is why Apple has decided to limit its distribution.
That antenna would be useless for the bands mmWave in Spain when no operator has deployed 5G in those bands, everything is said, for a compelling reason: they have not yet been auctioned.
Still finding it kinda weird that the mmwave antenna is only in the US iPhones pic.twitter.com/SFkZ42TiM2
— Liam (@_that_Liam) October 14, 2020
What the hell is the 5G mmWave?
Before moving on it is important to enter into the importance of 5G mmWave bands. The current 5G, in full deployment in Spain and the majority worldwide, is sub-6 GHz, which means that it uses bands below 6 GHz, as previous generations of mobile networks have been doing. The advantage of the low bands, especially below 1 GHz, is that they allow to reach a greater extension per antenna and to penetrate better inside buildings. On the other hand, the big drawback is that not only telephony makes use of these bands, but also DTT, communications of another type such as radio or military communications are in that band of the radioelectric spectrum, so free space is limited, limiting the maximum speed that 5G networks can offer using those bands.
The 5G mmWave comes to fill the main obstacle suffered by the 5G sub-6 GHz, the amount of spectrum available. The example is simple: while in the 700 MHz band the operators will fight for 60 MHz, which will surely go to Movistar, Orange and Vodafone in equal parts, and in the 3.5 GHz band there is 400 MHz for operators (most already distributed), On the 5G mmWave bands there can be thousands of megahertz waiting for operators. Making a simile with highways, it would be like going from a national highway with one lane in each direction to a highway with four lanes in each direction, which can absorb much more traffic.
The 5G mmWave ‘highway’ is especially helpful to provide coverage to places with a high density of people, such as stadiums, concert venues, shopping centers or airports, because it provides higher speeds and capacity than low bands. Now, not everything is positive in the 5G mmWave, which by the way is called that because it uses millimeter signals. By using such high bands, penetration indoors is much more complicated, it does not easily penetrate walls, and also the coverage that each antenna can offer is also limited.
The 5G mmWave is especially useful in providing coverage to very dense areas
The truly ‘good’ 5G will come from the combination of both bands, the sub-6 GHz to offer quality coverage in interiors and rural areas (due to its reach), and the mmWave to offer the highest possible speed in confined environments with high density. Almost all US carriers are already using 5G mmWave, also due to limited space in the sub-6 GHz bands, but a major rollout in Europe may take years.
Flee from what is NOT 5G SA
We could be tempted to buy a smartphone that already has 5G mmWave to be prepared for when it begins to be used in Spain and Europe, but in addition to the fact that the wait will be years there is another important drawback: there are no smartphones with 5G mmWave for sale in Spain. Neither the Samsung Galaxy Note 20, nor the Xiaomi Mi 10T Pro, nor the Huawei P40 Pro + ... none of the high-end mobiles, much less lower-end phones, come with 5G mmWave.
It is not a question that the technology of the processors is not ready, the modems of most of them are compatible with the 5G mmWave but do not activate it nor do they incorporate the specific antenna that the iPhones 12 destined for the United States due to the lack of working networks. But beyond the absence of 5G mmWave, not all 5G smartphones for sale are the same, and it is important to know this point, because it will greatly affect the possibility of making the most of the new 5G advance that will arrive in Spain in 2021.
The 5G currently deployed by operators in Spain, and in most countries, is the NSA (Non Standalone), which relies on 4G, while in the coming months they will begin to deploy 5G SA (Standalone), already totally independent of 4G. And if you want to be prepared to enjoy that best 5G, you need a compatible mobile and not all of them are. The latest high-end and even medium-end mobiles with 5G are compatible with 5G SA, but the first smartphones with 5G to reach the market, such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G or the Xiaomi Mi 9 Pro 5G, are only compatible with 5G NSA and will not be able to access the benefits of the 5G that is coming soon.